When Graduating High School Late Is a Good Thing

Leslieanne John wanted to avoid the low-performing, often dangerous high schools in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, N.Y., where she lived. But when she didn’t get accepted into any of the other schools she applied to as an eighth-grader in 2011, she decided to take a chance on a new school. Called Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-Tech for short, the school had opened in a nearby neighborhood the year before.
John found the vocational school challenging and her fellow students smart and competitive. Her father encouraged her but warned that as a young black woman hoping to enter the technology world, she had to work four times as hard as anyone else. He’d had to quit college with only a few credits to go when she was born, but he knew his daughter could make it.
John did. Besides receiving her high school diploma, graduating from P-Tech also earned her an associate’s degree in computer systems technology from the New York City College of Technology. 
“Seeing my dad’s face when the confetti dropped, that was enough for me,” she says, recalling her graduation last June. Now 20, John works in organizational development at IBM and is studying for her bachelor’s degree part-time. A lot of her middle school friends already have children; a few are incarcerated. 
P-Tech’s unique model brings together high schools, community colleges and corporate employers who collaborate on the curriculum. Fusing classroom instruction with workplace experience, the program also offers internships and mentoring. Meant to be completed in six years or less, P-Tech was designed by IBM, where nearly all graduates who do not go on to four-year colleges are first in line for any open jobs. The end goal: to provide kids from low-income communities a direct route to the middle class.

IBM’s Stan Litow (left), founder of the P-Tech model, honors Gabriel Rosa, a 2015 graduate who now designs website interfaces for IBM’s Digital Business Group.

So far, P-Tech in Brooklyn has graduated 81 students; 14 have accepted jobs from IBM, and almost all of them are pursuing their bachelor’s degrees while working. Nationally, those with only a high school education earn an average of $30,500 per year. For P-Tech graduates working at IBM, that number jumps to around $50,000, according to Stan Litow, president emeritus of the IBM Foundation and the founder of the P-Tech model. 
IBM built the program to be easily replicated by school districts in other states and around the world. The company offers online support and curriculum guidance for those interested in developing the public-private partnerships necessary to the model’s success. There are now more than 80 P-Tech schools in six states as well as in Australia and Morocco, with corporate partners in fields spanning healthcare, manufacturing and agriculture.
The 2016 graduating class gather for a photo with IBM’s Stan Litow at P-Tech in Brooklyn.

Rashid Ferrod Davis, P-Tech’s founding principal, rushes through the well-maintained hallways in a blue tracksuit, pausing only to pick up dropped paper towels on the floor. He says the hardest part of his job is going home each day, as there are many afterschool activities to attend, not to mention an education model to perfect.
He explains that a longer school day, with some teachers working an early shift and others a late shift, provides more time for freshmen to focus on English, math, and career readiness in longer blocks. It’s a cohesive curriculum — for example, a math class might include elements of writing and teach presentation and business skills.
A recent report by the College Board noted that P-Tech in Brooklyn had a completion rate four times higher than the national average for associate-degree students. More than 80 percent of its alumni are currently working toward their bachelor’s degree, compared to 55 percent of New York City students who graduate from traditional high schools. That’s good news, considering that by 2024 an estimated 16 million new jobs will be created that require at least a two-year degree.
John, who finished the six-year program in just four-and-a-half years, says P-Tech introduced her to a side of herself she didn’t know she had. “The last thing on my mind was how hard I needed to work,” she says now. “But being around peers that were also very competitive and very intelligent sort of pushed me and the rest of us to get everything done as quickly and as best as we could.”

Building a New Workforce in a World of Help Wanted

Jared Bravo thought he knew a few things about building a house. After all, he had helped his dad refinish their basement when he was a teenager and then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in architecture. But in reality, he knew very little.
Bravo, 25, works for Habitat for Humanity New York City in Queens, N.Y. As the construction site manager, he oversees the gut renovation of old city-owned housing units that are being turned into affordable housing for low-income families. He’s had to learn everything about building on the job.
“The more I’ve been onsite, the more I realized I didn’t actually do much to help fix my dad’s basement,” he jokes.
Though Bravo hadn’t intended to go into construction, the opportunity to learn a trade skill was something that, to him, proved valuable.
That understanding is lost on many young Americans, as a so-called “skills gap” looms over the construction and manufacturing industries that could hamper output over the next decade. After the 2008 housing bust, almost 22 percent of the construction force left for other jobs, leaving 900,000 positions open. Today, the outlook remains bleak. Seventy-seven percent of builders report framing crew shortages and 76 percent say that there aren’t enough carpenters, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
The lack of builders is particularly acute after this year’s hurricane season decimated 25 percent of the Florida Keys and destroyed an estimated 30,000 homes in Houston; Puerto Rico is still reeling from Hurricane Irma’s destruction.
There simply aren’t enough people to help rebuild.

Habitat for Humanity is one of several organizations helping to bridge the labor skills gap while providing employment opportunities to people from low-income neighborhoods.

An October 2017 poll conducted by the staffing firm Adecco shows that close to 90 percent of American executives believe apprenticeship programs, which tend to enjoy wide bipartisan support, can close this gap. In 2016, President Obama allocated $265 million in grants for apprenticeship programs through 2019. More recently, President Trump funneled an additional $100 million into those efforts — a move that will likely experience funding struggles as a result of the president’s cuts to educational programs and a 21 percent decrease in funding to the Labor Department.
Nonprofits and local governments also run apprenticeship programs that achieve the same goal for less within the “new-collar” job sector (a term coined by the New York Times), while trade schools are also affordable options.
The worker shortage is already causing construction delays. In the Big Apple, for example, Habitat for Humanity New York City acts as a general contractor building affordable housing units. It’s had to stretch deadlines because skilled carpenters and other tradespeople weren’t available.
But it hasn’t been all bad news for Habitat — or other groups, like YouthBuild — that work to create a pipeline of workers.
“The upside is that we’re returning and providing roads for people in the community to become laborers or construction workers that may not have realized this was an option,” says Karen Haycox, CEO of Habitat for Humanity New York City.
Robert Taylor, executive director for New York’s East Harlem chapter of YouthBuild, echoes these sentiments. “Not every person who comes into our program is going to be equipped to take on tech jobs that require a four-year college education, especially if you’re already reading at the fourth- or sixth-grade level … If you’re someone coming from somewhere where you’re not finishing high school, construction jobs are great to be placed into with spillover benefits,” he says.
More than half of businesses blame schools for not providing pathways to middle-class labor jobs. But Albuquerque, N.M., mayor Richard J. Berry views the problem differently: Schools are failing to teach kids about trade jobs, and businesses aren’t jumping in with opportunities to learn.
“The industry on one side said, ‘We need a better-trained workforce’ but didn’t know how to put that through an educational framework, so we told them to create the curriculum and we’ll put it into practice,” Berry tells NationSwell after speaking at the 2017 NationSwell Summit on Solutions this past November.
Through the five-year long partnership Running Start for Careers, high school students receive dual credit for classes in plumbing, electrical wiring, carpentry and other technical trades. The result? A 36 percent increase in the graduation rate among students who are traditionally lower income, according to Berry.
“We had kids asking, ‘Why am I in school?’” Berry says. “You can sit them down and explain to students all day in a classroom why they need geometry, but it doesn’t click until you get them to work with Joe the Carpenter who’s building roof trusses and explains why A-squared plus B-squared has to equal C-squared, or the roof will fall down. Then, they’ll become interested and see that there are actual roads to the middle class without having to be burdened with student debt.
Bravo, the site manager with Habitat for Humanity New York City, says that the interest to learn new skills exists, it just needs to be piqued.
“When you’re working with high school and college kids, you might spark an interest in something they didn’t realize they had,” he says. “You just have to show them a different angle of what they think they know.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Jared Bravo works for AmeriCorps. NationSwell apologizes for the error.

5 Ways Colleges Help Single Parents Earn Degrees

For roughly a quarter of American college students — 4.8 million of them, to be exact — life is more than just textbooks, beer and all-night philosophical discussions. Instead, their college experience comes with a side of baby books, bottles and the need for extra childcare during finals. It’s a challenging scenario, and for those raising kids without a partner, the time, dedication and money needed to graduate is even more acute. As of 2012, there were 2.1 million single moms enrolled in college, a number that has doubled since 1999. What’s more, only 28 percent of them complete their degrees within six years.
The good news is that some colleges and universities have created innovative programs to help students with kids, particularly single mothers, earn bachelor degrees, which in turn greatly improves their prospects for financial security. Their efforts can be used as a model for other institutions that want to increase the assistance given to the student-parents in their ranks.


It’s tremendously easier to get to class when you’re living right on campus. That goes double for those students who have to juggle getting themselves and their children out the door in the mornings. The College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Neb., is just one of a handful of schools that has dedicated a portion of its campus housing to student-parents, opening its $10 million Madonna Hall in 2012 to provide housing for up to 48 single mothers, with free laundry services and play areas for their kids. And parenting students at Misericordia University in Dallas, Penn., who have school-age kids can take advantage of a bus line that runs from the university’s free year-round housing to local elementary and high schools.


Though the number of on-campus daycare facilities has decreased to less than half of all public institutions, there are still plenty of options for the student-parent. For example, at Minneapolis’s St. Catherine University, the young children of student-parents in the Access and Success Program can attend a Montessori early-education program, and the university keeps a list of on-campus students available for baby-sitting. St. Catherine also provides access to dedicated lactation rooms, as does the University of Iowa and the University of Washington.

One of the ways colleges support student-parents is by offering affordable on-campus daycare.


According to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 88 percent of single parents in college have incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For these students, receiving financial assistance is critical. At  Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., about 90 nontraditional students, including single mothers under the age of 25, are enrolled as Frances Perkins Program scholars each year, with 25 of them receiving full-tuition scholarships. Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business in Provo, Utah, offers scholarships to single-parent undergraduate and graduate students, both mothers and fathers. Wilson College, an all-girls school in central Pennsylvania, doles out 13 scholarships to single parents with children between the ages of 20 months and 12 years. And in addition to offering grants of up to $8,600 to parenting students, the University of California–Berkeley’s Bear Pantry, which exclusively serves student parents, provides them a two-week food supply along with a $30 gift card for fresh produce, meat or dairy.


While financial help and on-campus childcare are invaluable to single-parent students, so too are activities and dedicated spaces to keep their kids happy and occupied. At Misericordia, students’ kids can attend summer and sports camps, learn to swim, and visit the on-campus children’s garden and library. Likewise, Wilson College offers trips to Hershey Park for the hardworking families in its Single Parent Scholar Program. And the Children’s Center at Indiana University Southeast provides structured daycare that combines classroom learning with outdoor recreation, games and storytime.


To help parent-students succeed, some schools have fully integrated programs that provide not just childcare and housing, but also counseling services and parenting workshops. The Keys to Degrees Program at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., offers year-round campus housing, childcare placement and subsidies, scholarship support, tutoring, mentoring and parenting-skills courses. Endicott pioneered the program and, through grants, has expanded it to schools including Portland State, Eastern Michigan, Dillard University and others. And it’s working: Seventy-four percent of Keys to Degrees participants have earned a bachelor’s degree, and 92 percent of graduates since 2013 are now working in a field related to their course of study. In addition, the College of Saint Mary has a dedicated employee that helps moms find pediatricians and, if needed, legal aid. Its Mothers Living & Learning program offers workshops in parenting strategies, and a student group called MOMS (Many Opportunities for Mothering Solo) plans fun-filled events for mothers and their kids.

* * *

The goal of these programs and others is simple: Make life easier on the single parent who wants to study. As Autumn Green, the director of Endicott’s student-parents program, recently put it, “We try to look for students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to attend college. Students get a lot from the program, but they’re also giving a lot to the program. They’re making an investment in their future. They have skin in the game.”
Homepage photo by by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Uniting Forces Against a Digital Divide

The digital divide, an alarming technology gap in our nation’s public schools that threatens to leave children in disadvantaged districts behind, cuts across small rural towns and big cities alike.
Across the nation, approximately 6.5 million U.S. students lack connectivity to the Internet. And half our country’s teachers lack the support to incorporate technology into their lessons.
The one-hour documentary, “Without a Net: The Digital Divide in America,” directed by Academy Award-nominated director Rory Kennedy and narrated by actor Jamie Foxx, profiles schools, teachers and students who are hurt by a lack of technology access.
“There isn’t a single industry that hasn’t been touched by the innovation of technology,” Rose Stuckey Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation, which produced “Without a Net” points out. “How can we not give kids the skills and tools they need to succeed as adults?”
“Without a Net” recently premiered on National Geographic and is a selection at the New York Film Festival. Watch the film now at digitaldivide.com.
This post was paid for by Verizon.

Teetering on the Digital Divide

At Jameira Miller’s high school in Lansdowne, Pa., using technology means punching buttons on a calculator. To use a computer, the soft-spoken senior has to give up lunch to wait in line at the media center, which only has a few desktops. Yet five miles away, students at a different school enjoy courses in computer-aided drafting design, engineering and robotics.
Welcome to the “digital divide,” the alarming technology gap in our nation’s public schools that threatens to leave children in disadvantaged districts behind. It’s the focus of Academy Award-nominated director Rory Kennedy’s new documentary, “Without a Net: The Digital Divide in America.
The one-hour film, narrated by actor Jamie Foxx, profiles schools, teachers and students, including Miller, who are hurt by a lack of technology access. The hardware shortage is just the start. Approximately 6.5 million U.S. students still lack connectivity to the Internet. Half our country’s teachers lack the support to incorporate technology into their lessons.
The digital divide cuts across small rural towns and big cities alike. The only common denominator: a lack of federal, state and local funding. Live in the “wrong” zip code and not only will your child’s ability to learn be affected, but her odds of thriving in the future will also be impacted, explains Rose Stuckey Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation, which produced “Without a Net.
“There isn’t a single industry that hasn’t been touched by the innovation of technology,” Kirk points out. “How can we not give kids the skills and tools they need to succeed as adults?”
The argument, “Well, I didn’t have technology when I went to school,” isn’t valid, she says.
“When people ask, ‘Is it really necessary?’ my answer is yes,” says Kirk. “And then I ask them, ‘Who are you hiring today who can’t type on a computer?’”

UP TO SPEED: The Digital Divide in America

Through the Verizon Innovative Learning initiative, the company has committed $160 million in free technology devices, connectivity, teacher training and hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning for kids in need. So far, the program has helped 300,000 students in 1,900 schools and clubs. After measuring its impact, Kirk says, Verizon knew it was on to something big: 64 percent of kids who participated were more eager to go to college. And 53 percent decided to pursue STEM careers.
Still, “the answer to the digital divide isn’t as simple as ‘let’s give away technology to everyone,’” Kirk notes.
That’s where “Without a Net” comes in.
“We wanted to tell a story,” Kirk says. “Not about Verizon, but about the bigger issue. We wanted to take a closer look at the ecosystem [of the digital divide] — the students, parents, teachers, schools, government, curriculum, zip codes — and shine a light on what our opportunities could be.”
Kennedy was the perfect filmmaker to take on that challenge. “Giving back is in Rory’s DNA,” says Kirk, a NationSwell Council member. “She has incredible compassion for the underserved.”
The film’s narrative, and Kennedy’s focus, remains firmly on those teetering closest to the digital divide. A sixth grader in New York shows how she types out school assignments on her mom’s phone. (“A 10-minute assignment can take her an hour,” her teacher worries.) A frustrated principal in rural Pennsylvania shows off a storage room filled with brand new Chromebooks — which can’t be used since his school can’t afford Wi-Fi.
In Coachella, Calif., one of the poorest school districts in the state, teenagers spend their weekends sitting inside parked school buses outfitted with Wi-Fi routers. Since their families can’t afford Internet access at home, these buses are their only chance to go online and finish homework.

As president of the Verizon Foundation, Rose Stuckey Kirk believes that giving children access to technology puts them on a path to success, both in school and in life.

Kirk knows putting an end to tech inequality requires many factors, including reliable connectivity at schools and homes, mobile digital devices, immersive teacher training, tech-ed focused curriculum — and plenty of visionary leaders. (Those Coachella buses tricked out with Wi-Fi? They were the brainchild of a principal who saw his students struggling.)
That’s why Verizon is committed to continue handing out tablets, training teachers and offering free tech labs to kids who need them the most. And it’ll continue giving a voice to the issue with its campaign, #weneedmore.
When Kirk saw the final cut of “Without a Net,” “I cried,” she admits. The scene that touched a nerve: When Miller learns all those lunches she missed for the opportunity to use a computer were worth it — because she’s been accepted to college.
“Without a Net” recently premiered on National Geographic and is a selection at the New York Film Festival. Watch the film now at digitaldivide.com.
This post was paid for by Verizon.

They’re Finding Hope for Their Future in Comic Books and Journal Entries

When Kevin Vaughn Jr., a 15-year-old from North Philadelphia, wrote a letter to victims of police brutality, he did so from a perspective that many in his community say they share. Namely, that being young and black in America is a raw deal.
“I am sorry you were treated as something less than human,” he wrote. “No matter who or what you are, you should be respected as a human, a citizen, and an American. … Use your experience to make a difference.”
The letter wasn’t intended to be read by anyone other than him and his classmates, a group of about a dozen teens from some of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods. Vaughn Jr. wrote it for a writing workshop that encourages young people like him to record their thoughts and feelings in a journal — punctuation, spelling and grammar be damned. The point wasn’t to get a good grade; it was simply recording his experience that mattered.
Vaughn Jr. is taking part in Mighty Writers, a program that teaches writing skills to students between the ages of 7 and 17. The nonprofit works with about 2,500 kids annually, exposing them to everything from playwriting to comic book creation through after-school classes, night and weekend workshops, and summer sessions. Boosting literacy skills is crucial in a city like Philadelphia, where nearly half of the population lacks even the basic reading skills to hold down a job. The idea behind Mighty Writers is that kids who master writing also make better decisions, have higher self-esteem and achieve greater success as they enter adulthood.
The first step is getting them to think creatively, says Amy Banegas, program administrator for the North Philadelphia chapter of Mighty Writers. This summer, Banegas, a 14-year teaching veteran of North Philadelphia schools, is holding weeklong summer sessions at the Mighty Writers location just north of the city’s burgeoning Center City neighborhood. It’s the fourth writing center the nonprofit has opened since its founding in 2009.
Despite downtown Philadelphia’s booming economy, the local school system is flailing. The cash-strapped district, which educates about 130,000 students, has had a hard time retaining permanent teachers, resulting in dramatically low test scores across the city. To save money, the education department will reportedly begin closing three schools a year starting in 2019.
All of this is bad news in a city where nearly a quarter of the population can’t read or write beyond an eighth-grade level, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2003, the most recent year information is available. 
“Literacy is horrible in North Philly, from kids to adults. And as parents, you can’t help your child read or write if you can’t do it yourself,” says Banegas, who sees many sophomores enter her program at a fourth-grade reading level. “It’s sad that it’s not shocking.”

Kevin Vaughn Jr., 15, puts his thoughts on paper during a Mighty Writers workshop.

Mighty Writers’ network of 400 volunteers, made up largely of filmmakers, musicians and journalists, attempts to combat that by providing structure through consistent writing exercises based on the issues that affect the kids who attend. In one recent session, for example, students learned how to channel their voices to become advocates for justice and equality.
Mighty Writers measures the impact of their program by assessing participants’ writing development using a tech platform. Additionally, the organization tracks students’ self-reporting on writing motivation and writing stamina over time. Education director Rachel Loeper says that she’s seen improvement among the students who attend.
There have been other city-based organizations that are similar to Mighty Writers. One is Writers Matter  at La Salle University, which focuses on middle schools students. Professor Robert Vogel created the program in 2005 and says writing classes like it are imperative in urban areas with large populations of low-income and special-needs students.
“The writing programs in most large cities are pretty minimal and don’t really address the adolescent issues these students experience. Schools there just aren’t as well-funded as they are in suburban and rural areas,” Vogel says. “It’s a whole different social-economic dynamic in inner cities. As a result, the resources aren’t that good, and the challenges are much greater.”
At the Mighty Writers summer workshop that NationSwell attended, the topic at hand was the state of “being unapologetically black.” Students discussed police violence against African-Americans — specifically the deaths that have dominated headlines over the past five years — and then wrote in their journals. That these kids would have strong feelings about cops isn’t a surprise. In 2015, a federal study found that 81 percent of police shootings in the city targeted black residents in North Philadelphia. Just last month, a policeman in North Philadelphia’s 15th precinct shot and killed an armed black man after he was stopped for recklessly riding a dirt bike.
“It’s not just a workshop,” says Banegas. “It’s about self-growth and connecting to community.”
Those are qualities that Vogel, who conducted a three-year study on the effectiveness of his Writers Matter program, says are necessary for future success.
“There’s an emotional and social impact, and a building of confidence among the children that is hard to measure, but we’ve been able to see [those positive results] through interviews with [participants],” he says. “These kinds of programs have an impact that goes beyond the academic.”
Vaughn Jr., the 15-year-old who penned a letter to victims of excessive police force, says he’s learned to appreciate the practice of keeping a journal since enrolling in Mighty Writers.
“I find value in it because it’s a great way to let you know what you’re thinking and feeling,” he says. “It’s just keeping note as to where you are as a person.”
Homepage photo by Joseph Darius Jaafari
Continue reading “They’re Finding Hope for Their Future in Comic Books and Journal Entries”

Profile: Hadi Partovi

As the son of a college professor who helped establish Iran’s Sharif University of Technology, Hadi Partovi has always had a deep-seated appreciation for teachers.
“Passionate teachers have been my biggest inspirations,” he says, noting that while he was always trying to pave his own path, he’s now doing something very similar to his father.
Partovi’s nonprofit, Code.org, provides computer science curriculum to tens of thousands of educators, empowering them to teach coding in their classrooms. The organization reports that more than half of all students participating in high school Code.org courses are African American or Hispanic and 37 percent are female.
Through the years, Partovi’s appreciation of the impact teachers can have on their students — and the world — has only grown. He illustrates this point with a story he recently heard about a junior high school teacher in Auburn, Wash., that he doesn’t even know.
According to Partovi, this teacher noticed that one of his students regularly missed school two or three days each week. Concerned, the teacher reached out to the child’s family to inquire about having him attend computer science classes (which were introduced into the school’s curriculum with the help of Code.org, Partovi’s organization).
The student started having regular attendance, and his father called the teacher to report that his son liked school, thanking him for recognizing the need for his son to be exposed to new subjects, like computer science.
“The student went from almost dropping out to learning code,” Partovi says. “That, to me, is the strongest example of a change in somebody’s future — because of the teacher.”
Hadi Partovi is a NationSwell Council member. In addition to co-founding Code.org, he is also a tech entrepreneur and investor.

Teen Caregivers

A 62-year-old recovering from a broken neck and a 17-year-old who wore the reddest dress in the world to prom are an unlikely pair. But they’re mentor and mentee, and now friends, as part of a program that aims to solve two troubling challenges: the “silver tsunami” of millions living longer and needing care, and the challenges of at-risk urban youth trying to find meaningful careers that offer the chance for advancement into the middle class.
Olga Cruz lives in The New Jewish Home, a nursing home in New York City’s Upper West Side. She fights feelings of isolation and depression with the help of Wenetta Celestine, who shares stories about life during weekly visits. Celestine, like 225 other high school students from the Bronx and Manhattan, spends six to eight hours a week training to work in geriatric care.
Cruz helps her understand what it is like to grow old and what elders in a long-term care facility need.  
“She’s wonderful and loving; I want to hug and squeeze her like a grandma,” Celestine says of Cruz. “If I can’t tell my mom something, I can tell her.”

Many of the teens who are part of the Geriatric Career Development program develop mutually supportive relationships with residents.

With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day, and the population of elderly people expected to more than double by 2050, well-trained caregivers are already scarce. And they’re becoming even harder to find, with growth slowing in the primary pool of such workers: women ages 25 to 64.
Back in 2006, The New Jewish Home had trouble hiring certified nursing assistants (CNAs) for residents in its facilities in Manhattan and Westchester County, N.Y. Meanwhile, the graduation rates of many high schools in the Bronx and Manhattan was 40 to 60 percent; few students went on to college.
With the help of private, city and federal grants and a curriculum from nearby Columbia University Teachers College, the Geriatric Career Development (GCD) program introduced 20 students to eldercare.
As part of a summer certification course, Tania Hueston (left) and Jaileen Morales (right) performed clinical tasks at a local hospital. The teens do similar work all year long at The New Jewish Home.

GCD isn’t just about finding people to take vital signs, empty bedpans and bathe the elderly. Its larger aim is to provide struggling teens with the skills and jobs that make it possible for them to earn money, pursue higher education and escape from poverty (almost three quarters live below the poverty line; many reside in violent neighborhoods).
Without this program, Celestine says, “I wouldn’t be working to be a CNA, and I’d probably not know CPR. I learned that there’s always an open door, no matter where you go.”
Eleven years in, it’s found success. Ninety-nine percent of GCD’s 517 graduates have finished high school and 28 currently work at The New Jewish Home. Of this year’s 62 graduates, all are going on to attend college.
In return, the Home gets more than simply a larger hiring pool. Students spend 8,000 hours a year with its elders.
“It makes the residents feel less lonely, and they feel a sense of satisfaction, especially those who do not have family around,” says John Cruz, director of the program. “It makes them feel young again, alive again.”
GCD participants Hinelsey Quezada (left) and Jose Moncada (right) study for their Certified Nursing Assistant certification exam.

Research shows that both young people and the elderly gain when participating in programs like GCD. A recent Stanford University report called for “intergenerational engagement,” citing particular benefits for underprivileged youth.
Today, similar programs exist in Maryland, through the High School Health Education Foundation, and via the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) model, where students can enroll in a six-year-long program that includes job training, a no-cost associate degree and employment that’s all but guaranteed.
Demand for the GCD program is high — each year about 200 students (mostly African American or Latino) apply for 100 spots. Most start as sophomores and spend the next three years learning how to care for elderly patients. Students can earn $11 an hour during a nine-week-long internship at the Home when they are seniors.
Participants receive tutoring help and assistance on how to study for the SAT and how to write resumes and cover letters, among other topics. They also receive counseling on college selection and are taken on campus visits.
About 80 percent continue their medical education by receiving nursing assistant certification via Lehman College (The New Jewish Home covers the cost for each student’s certification course), and some become certified phlebotomists, EKG technicians, medical coders or patient care technicians.
Kayla Rivas, 17, and Joanne Langer, 91, chose each other because they both like to sing.
Joanne Langer, 91, and Kayla Rivas, 17, at The New Jewish Home in New York City.

“It was like love at first sight,” Rivas says. Langer explains that they enjoy “anything except rock and roll,” before she croons her rendition of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?”
“I feel like she’s like a grandma for me. I always come to her for advice and comfort. When I told her about wanting to go to college she always motivates me, and gives me hugs and kisses,” Rivas says.
Other pairs share similar sentiments. Jaileen Morales, 18, says that without Mizue Fujimoto, 67, she’d likely be struggling more and planning to stay local after high school, instead of going to the State University of New York in Old Westbury, where she plans to study biology.
Just as important, Fujimoto helps Morales, who was raised by her grandmother, have a better relationship with the elderly.
The New Jewish Home has extended its program to people ages 18 to 24, who have dropped out of school or are not currently working. After three months’ of training, participants become certified home health aides, a position that does not require a high school diploma and pays a median hourly wage of $10.87.
Half of all home aides live in households that receive welfare or food stamps and other public benefits. Because of this, the program encourages graduates to earn more credentials.
Certified nursing assistants fare slightly better, earning a national median of $11.68 per hour, compared to $12.81 for patient care technicians and $16.92 for medical coders. While some of these jobs may not boost a worker into the middle class, they can further his or her healthcare career path or provide useful income during college.
Some GCD students are aiming higher. In all, 40 percent of GCD graduates became or are studying to become doctors, nurses, physical or occupational therapists, administrators or other healthcare professionals.
Rivas wants to be a physician’s assistant, a position that has a median salary of more than $90,000. And Morales hopes to become a plastic surgeon.
What started out as a desire to fill entry-level jobs has turned into a program that’s creating a chance to fulfill big dreams. Celestine, Cruz’s mentee, says that without GCD, she wouldn’t be heading off to SUNY Cobleskill in the fall.
“I like to keep to myself, so I’d stay home and get a job,” Celestine says. “I learned that there’s always an open door, no matter where you go. When I see kids on the street, I feel like saying, ‘If you all just knew what GCD could do for you, even if you’ve not finished high school. This is like a change.’”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that 530 GCD students have finished high school and 75 of this year’s class is going to college. NationSwell apologizes for these errors.

The Giving Girls

Thalia Taylor, a 17-year-old Bronx teen has a lot of opinions, specifically when it comes to problems affecting her peers. After all, young women from the South Bronx, Southeast Queens or East New York areas experience higher rates of HIV infection, are more likely to be victims of violent crime and have less access to reproductive services than white women within the same age.
New York City government has attempted to address these issues by funding nonprofits that work with young women of color in those neighborhoods, but there’s one glaring issue: The organizations often don’t have representation on their staff or boards of the very groups they aim to help. The result? Here’s what Taylor thinks: “By leaving us out of the conversation and not consulting us is really useless, in a sense,” she says.
But now Taylor has become part of a program called Girls IGNITE Grantmaking (GIG). This group of 15 young women from the outer reaches of New York City’s boroughs are deciding how to divvy up $30,000 amongst a handful of nonprofits providing assistance to young women.
“We have a 30 year history of participatory grantmaking and we really think that community members should make decisions on where funding goes,” says Neha Raval, senior program officer at the New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF), who runs GIG in alliance with the YWCA of the City of New York. “But there was a problem. We didn’t see young girls of color at the table helping to make important decisions that would impact them.”
(In exchange for their work, Taylor and the other young women in the program also received a $1,000 stipend, 10 percent of which was earmarked for donation to other philanthropic causes of their choosing.)
In advance of their grantmaking, the girls learned the ins and outs of how nonprofits are funded and participated in lectures about popular social issues. More importantly, they made site visits and listened to pitches from directors of nonprofits about how they’d solve various issues impacting young girls of color.
“We were so pleased to see young people in these leadership roles, and I think this is something companies often strive for,” says Tracy Hobson, executive director of the Center for Anti-Violence, one of GIG’s beneficiaries. “It made us really step back and ask ourselves, ‘How do we speak the language of the people that we work with all the time?’”

Without input from community members themselves, Thalia Taylor, third from right, believes that philanthropic assistance is useless.

Research into the demographics of philanthropy released in 2014 by the diversity coalition D5 showed that boardrooms are overwhelmingly filled with men and close to 90 percent of nonprofit CEOs and presidents are white.
The lack of diversity is problematic for philanthropic organizations hoping to address cultural issues such as socioeconomic status in poor areas or women’s reproductive rights.
“Philanthropy likes to think that it’s the investment capital for social change,” says Stephanie Chrispin, a public policy fellow at Philanthropy New York, a nonprofit organization. “But if its leaders are limited in their vision because they are overwhelmingly straight, white males who live in rarefied bubbles, the sector’s ability to see the possibilities and strengths in marginalized communities will remain obscured.”
Diversity within the nonprofit sector becomes even more problematic when looking at organizations that support youth. Leaders of nonprofits that work to help young women of color say there is a definitive lack of young female voices in deciding where money is needed most.
“If the point of diversifying is to make sure voices are heard for those who we’re helping, then philanthropy groups are failing,” says Jennifer Agmi, director of programs at NYWF. “With [the fellows], what we’re saying is we don’t know, and they know more than we do.”
Other philanthropic groups, including the Disability Rights Fund and The Social Justice Fund Northwest, also use participatory grantmaking. The New York Women’s Foundation plans to offer Girls IGNITE Grantmaking again next year.
By giving community members a seat at the table, more impact is achieved, says Dr. Amir Pasic, dean of philanthropic studies at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
“I think there’s been a realization, globally, that investing in young women helps elevate a community,” says Pasic.
And there’s another benefit for fellows, including Taylor: The empowerment gained by knowing that through voicing their opinions, they’ve had a part in making their community a better place.
Homepage photo courtesy of Vivienne Peng at The New York Women’s Foundation.

Fighting Poverty with Data

For nearly 10 years, New York City’s Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity has been an incubator of ideas designed to solve the challenges of poverty. Using research, data integration and program evaluation, the office’s staff tests these concepts to see whether they will truly work and scales them when they do.
“Evidence matters because people matter,” says New York City Deputy Mayor Richard Buery. “Most government policies aren’t driven primarily by evidence of impact; they’re driven by everything from what is politically popular to what’s been around the longest.”
Buery continues, “Being able to demonstrate to the world a real commitment to results, a commitment to changing course when a certain course of action isn’t working, becomes critical to gaining the kind of public support and credibility that are important to make sure that people are willing to invest their tax dollars to drive quality government services.”
The office is continually expanding its expertise in research, service design, evaluation and data integration to support key mayoral initiatives including Pre-K for All, IDNYC and Community Schools. It has also launched over 70 of its own programs. One of its first initiatives is also one of its most successful: ASAP, an associate’s degree program offered to students at the City University of New York.  
Watch the video above to learn how ASAP is doubling community college graduation rates.